The Future of SaaS Systems
and Process Automation – EDGE and CRM Systems
Written by: Lior Ben Dror, asst. CEO, Niloosoft.
One can summarize the future of software systems in three main points:
1. Computer systems operating on the cloud.
2. The automation of processes relating to customers, assisted by artificial intelligence to cope with the heavy load of information.
3. The use of social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Google +) and the information they contain to reach a specific target audience.
In order to summarize the changes that have taken place over the last few years in the area of software, I would like to tell you a true story about the development of our software company and the changes we had to introduce in order to become a leading supplier in the field of HR.
Before I begin my story, I would like to clarify the term cloud computing.
Cloud computing is an innovation that allows the use of computer power over the Internet.
The term “cloud” is a metaphor for the Internet network, based on the cloud-like shape used to depict the computer network in diagrams. In cloud computing, the data and business logic of computer systems are located on servers found in computer centers and are activated by remote end users. As a result, users are not required to purchase and manage computer resources and systems. Instead, they rent these services from suppliers which offer remotely accessible computing power over the Internet. This feature prevents the need for extensive expenditures on equipment and software, and makes managing them unnecessary. Cloud computing allows users to control and regulate the required computer power, and so at busy periods more computer power can be rented, and less of it when things are calmer, thus leading to lower costs. In some cases, the need for developing and managing applications is also saved.
The user of cloud computing may be a large, medium or small organization, or even a single person. The supplier is usually a well-established company that has developed a suitable infrastructure and provides services to a large number of users. The user utilizes the supplier’s services through the Internet without the need to know anything about the technological environment providing them.
The vision of cloud computing is to allow users to connect to any computer service they require through the Internet, similar to the connection to an electrical grid (Wikipedia).
And now to our story:
At the turn of the century, I began to work for a software company by the name of Niloosoft. My partner’s name was Nimrod Ronen, an expert in automated tools who had developed exclusive technology that completely decoded and filed CVs automatically. I was responsible for marketing and distributing the system at the time, and the subject interested me because the breakthrough involved was extremely innovative, and the companies that I visited still employed typists to get the job done. Companies were very impressed with the automatic tools’ quality and precision, and began utilizing the system, which assisted them in saving many hours of manual data entry.
Integrating artificial intelligence for interpreting CV documents, along with state of the art search engine technology, would now make it possible to rapidly and easily locate the best candidates. As a result, companies who were massive recruiters began using the system – and it was a success. At the time, we would always install the system on the customer’s local server, but after accumulating a large customer base, we began running into some serious support problems. The question was how we could upgrade and support all of these clients. Particularly when each organization had their unique infrastructure. In addition, the issue of repairing bugs and upgrading the system began to take up the precious time of our support personnel. To illustrate, any software company who needed to upgrade 100 customers with two support personnel, would require over six months to complete the job – if all went well. Then when the upgrading was complete, a new version would be released, and the entire process would start all over again. The never ending chase after new versions and upgrades resulted in the waste of precious time for our customers – and for us.
In mid-2007 we decided the time has come! The chase had ended. We began developing a completely new system while at the same time still developing the existing ones. The new system was based entirely on the cloud computing SaaS model. In the beginning of 2010 we completed the development phase and initial testing, and began installing the new systems for our new customers. The installation for a new customer, which would formerly take several hours or even days, was now shortened to two or three minutes. And upgrading 100 or even 1000 customers was a matter of three to four minutes at most.
The benefits of using a system based on a cloud computing module:
With the cloud computing system, the software provider can invest in external components, even expensive ones, without burdening the customer with the cost of these components. An additional benefit is that there are absolutely no hardware or infrastructure costs for the customer. In addition to this, the customer does not need to hire system administrators – the systems are professionally run by the company who developed the service, who will most likely make sure the environment is ideal so that the application performs at its best.
There are also disadvantages to cloud computing:
When there is a problem of any kind, all of the customers suffer, which leads to major urgency to resolve the problem as soon as possible. This urgency leads the software provider’s system administrators to feel responsible for solving the problem in the fastest way possible – it isn’t a problem of just one customer, but a situation affecting all of them. However, in extreme circumstances systems do crash, and then no one is able to work.
An additional disadvantage- and one of the worst ones- is that systems like these are very complex, and when you are up against a customer who insists on local installation, this may involve extremely high additional costs, and at times you have to forgo the customer. Also, there are changes that a customer can ask for that cause you to make changes in 12 different data bases for just one small change.
A very important issue that keeps a lot of people busy – information security:
An issue that is still being disputed is the level of security of the company’s data. In the case of a CRM or EDGE system, the information involved is very valuable to the company, and at times companies are apprehensive about uploading their valuable information onto the cloud based system.
Here I recommend doing some serious checking: Does it have large customers? How many customers? What infrastructures are used? Does the company also work with the defense sector? Which security tests has the system been exposed to and has it passed? Are the servers hardened? Ask for technical certificates and documentation to support claims made by sales personnel.
This is very important, because if you use a company who has not invested sufficiently in infrastructure, then your data may be in danger.
Process automation and artificial intelligence in CRM and recruiting systems
The overall goal of automation and artificial intelligence is to push as few buttons as possible to receive the most functionality and data.
A smooth machine-man interface (MMI) is one where the operating system is able to understand the user with minimum user effort. In the very near future we will be able to see operating systems like Apple’s Siri, whose MMI is through free speech.
Automated systems are known to do the “dirty work” without any human interference.
Using social networks
Undoubtedly, the hottest issue today, and probably in the near future as well, is social networks. Innovative information systems need to be able to intelligently integrate the information found in these networks for the organization’s internal use – and ensure that the information flowing into the company, remains there.
As it can clearly be seen from my personal story, I wholeheartedly recommend to the use of cloud computer systems – costs are sometimes higher, but these systems usually come from well established companies who have developed a large, professional system. Make sure that you are not the first customer or a “test case”. And you should also confirm that the company’s customers are large ones. Make sure the company you sign an agreement with is reputable, with hundreds of customers, and has over 5-10 years of experience in the field.
It is better to pay a little more for professional service, because you are then provided with routine updates and upgrades, and can be sure that there is someone in charge of the system with 99% availability and almost zero failures, at no additional costs, and no need to bring in one of your own computer people in order to find out what the problem is and why the system is not working. If your Internet connection is in working order, the system is supposed to work at full capacity, and if the system does not work – then it isn’t your problem.
In addition, to those who are interested in starting a project in this field, I recommend to inquire and ensure that the software system you are interested in implementing features the three points that were previously discussed:
1. The software system utilizes a cloud computing module – this is certainly the direction that all software companies are eager to go in.
2. Systems with completely automated processes and artificial intelligence for understanding the user.
3. Direct interface and integration between your internal systems and the social networks.